I am sitting in a session of Synod at which we are discussing same-sex relationships, and I am silently crying inside right now.
It is so difficult. It was appreciated that both sides were given an opportunity to be heard. First to be heard was the side that was the “sympathetic and embracing” position. The persons presenting were asked to be neutral and not state which side they agreed with, but to present neutrally. One person to present each side. The first person alluded to the fact that they were not pleased to present the pro-side, but was faithful to this request of neutrality. He read off of a powerpoint with a few side comments to explain. Overall, it was a factual, honest, unemotional argument.
Then comes the second argument. That which is against. It began with the speaker stating, “I do not agree! and I am prepared to tell you why.” Obviously, a different beginning, as his argument was emotionally charged and sought to engage the synod in a different manner. He deconstructed church policies, reading through a list that include statements such as, “seek to be well-informed,” and proclaiming, “I do not agree!”
What is it that we should ever NOT seek to be informed about? Seeking information, compassion or understanding does not mean one should have to change their minds, even. But how dare we condemn anyone without first having compassion for them? Did Jesus not do the same thing? Yes! In the Hebrew Bible it says that one who commits adultery should be stoned to death. Does Jesus not forgive the woman who is caught in adultery, saying, “let he who has no sin, cast the first stone”?
This is a message of compassion, forgiveness, love and kindness - how does this example of Christ escape us for “these people”?
As a church, we seek to follow Christ. Yes, it is true that Christ condemned sins. But in doing so, he never excluded or exiled sinners. He invited them to follow him. He welcomed them. He said that ALL are welcome at the table. He went out of his way to help both those understood to be sinners, and the faithful who believed. More often than not, these people were the same: Doesn’t he say that it is the sick who need a doctor? If we acknowledge we need Jesus, we acknowledge we are all sinners. Therefore we must make our way to a place where we do not condemn one another, where we do not judge who is sinning where or when, or whose sin is “greater” than another.
As a (global) church, we must not lose sight of our primary call. We are called to live faithfully into the example Christ has set before us. When it comes to the tax collector, the lepers, or the adulterers, for a few among many, how is it that we see and wish to share Jesus’ compassion and love and inclusion of these persons, and yet we consistently fail to share Jesus’ compassion and love and inclusion for others? Today, the issue at hand is homosexuality. Not long ago, it was women in the church. Not long before that, it was slavery.
How do we discern?
We do not have to have a solution. We do not have to all agree. But we do have to keep following Jesus. We do have to follow the path of Jesus which has been set before us: a path of compassion. A path of kindness, forgiveness, and love. A path of welcoming inclusion. No one said following Jesus would be easy. Inviting, welcoming and learning from those with whom we disagree will never be easy. Nor was it easy for Jews to welcome gentiles. Nor was it easy for anyone to walk away when Jesus said, “let he who has no sin, cast the first stone.” As times changed, it was not easy for Bishops to recant their public statements that slavery is discussed clearly in Scripture and should not be condemned. This journey is not an easy one. In fact, Jesus promised it wouldn’t be. My hope is neither that it would be easy, nor that a decision would be made to tear the church apart. Rather, my hope is that we might continue journeying together on issues which are most controversial, and as we do so, may we practice the mercy, love, and compassion Jesus has first shown us.